A new center – to be chaired by two U.S. presidents – has been created at the University of Arizona to advance the national conversation currently taking place about civility in political debate.
The National Institute for Civil Discourse is a nonpartisan center for debate, research, education and policy generation regarding civility in public discourse.
Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton have agreed to serve as honorary chairs for the institute.
"I am honored to join President Clinton in supporting this important effort at such a critical time in our nation's history," said President Bush. "Our country needs a setting for political debate that is both frank and civil, and the National Institute for Civil Discourse can make a significant contribution toward reaching this goal."
"America faces big challenges in revitalizing the American Dream at home and preserving our leadership for security, peace, freedom and prosperity in the world. Meeting them requires an honest dialogue celebrating both a clarification of our differences and a genuine stand for principled comparisons. I believe that the National Institute for Civil Discourse can elevate the tone of dialogue in our country, and in so doing, help us to keep moving toward 'a more perfect union.' I'm pleased to join President George H.W. Bush to help advance this important effort," said President Clinton.
"It is right and fitting that two of America's most successful practitioners of American democracy – Presidents Bush and Clinton – have now joined to help save it," said Fred DuVal, vice chair of the Arizona Board of Regents and originator of the idea for the institute. "And equally that the Tucson-based University of Arizona would host this bipartisan effort. This institute is the right people in the right place at the right time."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (retired) and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle will be the institute's honorary co-chairs.
A diverse array of political backgrounds are represented among the institute's other board members, who include:
- Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State
- Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan
- Greta Van Susteren, host of "On the Record," FOX News Channel
- Trey Grayson, director of the Harvard University's Institute of Politics
- Jim Kolbe, former U.S. Congressman
Several new board members will be announced over the next few months.
National Institute for Civil Discourse initiatives will include:
- Convening major policy discussions with elected officials, policymakers and advocates on topics that tend to generate polarized positions.
- Promoting civil discourse, civic engagement and civic leadership.
- Organizing workshops and conferences in Washington, D.C., Tucson and across the country.
- Promoting a national conversation among prominent public figures from government, business and media regarding challenging political issues in a non-partisan setting.
- Developing programs and research centered around the exercise of First Amendment freedoms conducted in a way that respects both the ideas of others, and those who hold them.
The commitment by the honorary co-chairs and board members reflect a commitment by highly influential leaders to cross political boundaries to address issues that divide many Americans.
"The mission of the National Institute for Civil Discourse is essential for our nation's future success," said O'Connor. "I am pleased to be part of the effort to unite Americans across the political spectrum in constructive debate about critical issues."
"Civil discourse does not require people to change their values, but should provide an environment that all points of view are heard and acknowledged," said Daschle. "If our nation is to successfully address its problems, we must unite behind shared values and principles and bring people together to develop solutions."
The institute is in the process of naming a working board that will be chaired by DuVal.
The National Institute for Civil Discourse will be housed in the UA's School of Government and Public Policy, in collaboration with the UA Rehnquist Center on the Constitutional Structures of Government in the James E. Rogers College of Law and other departments throughout the University.
Fletcher McCusker, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Providence Service Corporation, headquartered in Tucson, is the first to step forward to provide community support for the project.
Joseph Anderson, former chairman and chief executive officer of Schaller Anderson, also has pledged a major gift to enable the establishment of the institute.
"The University of Arizona is a place where all political views are welcome and where discussion and vigorous debate can take place in a respectful manner," said UA President Robert N. Shelton. "I am pleased that the National Institute for Civil Discourse will advance the cause of elevating the tone of our nation's political rhetoric."
"The University of Arizona is committed toward helping provide solutions to the challenges facing our country," said UA Provost Meredith Hay. "It is an ideal home for the National Institute for Civil Discourse, which will focus on bringing Americans of all political backgrounds together to solve problems collaboratively."
One of the key goals for the institute is to connect people with diverse viewpoints and to offer a venue for vigorous and respectful debate.
Among the institute's first events will be an executive forum with media, foundation, academic, government and corporate leaders regarding moving forward the national conversation about civil discourse and proceeding with constructive solutions.